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Could chips be a recession-buster?

By Danny Savage
BBC North of England Correspondent

Fish and chips
Fish and chips - seen as affordable, even in a recession

What sectors do well in a recession? Cheap takeaway food outlets could be one if the number of people wanting to learn the business is anything to go by.

Fish and chips. A national dish so abundant and popular that in World War II it was not rationed. And in these hard times it appears that selling fish and chips is attracting a lot of interest.

Leeds is home to the HQ of the National Federation of Fish Friers. On the outside it is a fairly uninspiring building in a residential area of the city.

But step inside and fans of the whiff of a chippy will be in heaven for here is everything you would find in a chip shop - cooking ranges, plastic forks, salt and vinegar bottles and take-away boxes. Everything except customers.

'No debts'

This is a fish and chip academy and people arrive from around the world to learn how to do it right and make it a business.

"Fish and chips are doing quite well", says the federation's general secretary, Bill Crook.

"It's relatively easy to run provided you do things the right way, which is what we teach people here. It's profitable and you can make a very good living.

"It's the ideal recession buster because by the time you have paid for the product you are selling, you've already sold it. And it's cash all the time, you don't have debts to worry about."

My accountant said fish and chips is the way to go
Paul Bussell

There are usually about a dozen pupils on each course. Paul Bussell - who is in his thirties - is one of those on the most recent ones, learning "the tricks of the trade and all the blurb you don't get in a manual".

"I'm currently a mortgage and insurance broker looking to sell my business. I hope to move to Wales to open a fish and chip shop. I looked at fast food businesses and my accountant said fish and chips is the way to go."

He is standing by one of the ranges shovelling chips from the deep frier. But as well as the practical side, academy students are getting top tips from people who have been in the business for years and have made a good living from it.

Dennis Tate is giving the lesson and says: "If you're going to buy a shop, look how many chimneys are around and about. If there are plenty of them you will always be alright. Over the years I've had eight shops and it has always worked."

'Put in the hours'

Maggie Hembrow from Taunton is also in the class. She knows there are overheads involved - a cooking range can cost up to £28,000 - but has taken the plunge.

"We worked in a convenience store next door to a fish and chip shop. The lease came up and we're taking it. I know the smell can put a lot of people off but if you put in the hours you can make a go of it."

All those on the course hope the investment of spending a few hundred pounds at the academy will reap rewards in the long run.

They realise that if they do not serve fish and chips the way people like them then customers will quickly desert their regular chippie for another outlet.

They always have some spare cash for a bag of chips
Simmy Singh

Down the road in Headingley, Simmy Singh is looking forward to the return of students to their digs in the streets around his fish and chip shop.

It has been a quiet summer with the holidays and fewer builders working on projects around him because of the downturn but he is confident about the future.

"The perception is that it is as cheap as chips. People think this is a cheap meal and they always have some spare cash for a bag of chips."

Back at the academy students are also being taught how to clear up properly after a busy day's frying.

The problem is that even the hungriest course members cannot get through all the cod, chips and pies they have cooked for practice. But there is a plan.

Pensioners in the surrounding streets of Meanwood seem to be doing quite well from free fish suppers delivered fresh from the classroom. Even they are benefiting indirectly from this recession.



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